Review of Makers Documentary Part 1
“Who here is a feminist?” I squirmed uncomfortably in my seat. I couldn’t see how many raised their hands because I was too busy trying to lift mine from my desk. “Aha I see”. The moment had passed, I was too late, I am I am! I think? “Who here believes women are equal to men?” I shot my hand into the air with the rest of the students. “Well then we have a lot of feminists in here” my Women in Art teacher smiled.
Since when had “feminist” garnered a negative connotation? I knew it was there but in my lifetime I hadn’t seen any feminists, only heard grumblings about bra burnings. And I heard stereotypes about feminists that I knew were not true. But how did this come to be?
I asked my mom once about women’s rights and what she saw of it growing up. She said something about an “ERA” and not much else. Years went on.
Last week, I stumbled upon a three part documentary called Makers: Women Who Make America, sponsored by PBS and AOL. I heard it was narrated by Meryl Streep and I was instantly intrigued and decided to check it out.
I watched the entire series over a few days but the content hasn’t left my thoughts. I am going to review each part in the hopes some of you will be as inspired and informed as I was.
Part 1 of Makers: Uplifting
The film starts out telling the dramatic story of a young woman who ran a marathon, when women weren’t allowed to. Katherine Switzer was only 20 years old when she registered for the 1967 Boston Marathon under her first initials. During the race, the race director literally chased her and grabbed her, yelling at her to get out of the race as you can see in the photo above. You will have to watch what happened next but women were officially barred from the Boston Marathon after that year by the Amateur Athletic Union, up until 1972.
Side note, Gertrude Elderle was first woman (and 6th person as open water swimming was a relatively new sport) to swim across the English Channel in 1926 which is 21 miles, and in the mid 50′s in 14 hours and 31 minutes. So obviously women had proven their endurance abilities, but when it came to more gendered, historied sports like running, women were immediately discounted.
The film begins in the 1950′s and tells of the “romantic paternalism” of what was expected of women, to be housewives. Post WWII women weren’t ready to settle back down and didn’t have any chance of a successful career. Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique and shook society and started the feminist movement.
The Civil Rights Act was passed, and Title VII said employers were not allowed to discriminate based on race, religion, or sex.
With the law on their side, women were ready to test their rights. Flight attendants were routinely fired on their 32nd birthday as part of industry standards, and a group of stewardesses unsuccessfully tried to sue the airlines. Betty Friedan created the National Organization for Women (NOW) to challenge discriminatory laws. Black women and gay women felt like they didn’t have a place in the women’s rights movement, but that was about to change.
The radical women’s liberation movement started to grow in the US. Women who realized their leadership potential and experience in civil rights movement started to band together to demand reform. Gloria Steinem became the face of the women’s liberation movement and the movement started to get national attention in the media. The media was very dismissive and disparaging about the feminists, they under-reported numbers in protests and made the feminists seem like a minority in the general population of women. Betty Friedan, still leading NOW, worried about the radical feminists’ views shocking mainstream America, and distanced herself from the women’s liberation movement. Gloria Steinem said the women’s liberation movement was trying to transform society, Betty Friedan’s NOW was trying to join society as it existed.
Gloria Steinem went on to start Ms. Magazine, a magazine created for and by women that broke ground on previously taboo subjects. Predicted by the media to fail, it became extremely popular and sold out its first edition in 8 days. Part 1 ends on this high note in the 1970′s.
Ladies who appeared in Part 1
Judy Blume – author
Gloria Steinem – activist
Barbara Walters – broadcast journalist, tv personality
Meg Whitman – CEO of HP
(they were all extremely engaging and personable!)
This movie answered so many questions I had about women’s rights! I had studied the suffragette movement a little in school, a lot on my own. If you want to watch a great movie on the suffragettes, watch Iron Jawed Angels. It’s very intense, and disturbing – because it really happened, not because Hollywood made it up.
Anyway, I was completely dumbstruck by everything I saw. How could a student, who had gotten a 5 in AP US and 5 in AP Art History, not know about the modern feminist movement? Art history had taught me some about women’s rights, hello Judy Chicago. But I didn’t know women weren’t able to get jobs out of law school, or not be able to rent an apartment because it was thought single women couldn’t afford rent. The movie did a great job of using interviews, photos, and clips from the events discussed – I was captivated. It was refreshing to see women supporting each other and working towards equality, maybe I’m just tired of sexualized, catty women on tv.
I also thought it was funny that in the 50′s you could get married to a man at age 22, and he could actually afford to financially support you, and a home. I don’t know of anyone who can do that in 2013. It seemed like everything that happened in Part 1 was pretty distant, just because I haven’t seen much comparisons to what was discussed in my lifetime. Women can work, women can participate in sports, and men and women are equals-right? Let’s see how that opinion changes in Part 2, stick around for my review next week.
And watch Part 1 here!